Review: ‘The Truth’ between mother and daughter is the dream pairing of Deneuve, Binoche

Catherine Deneuve (left) and Juliette Binoche in Hirokazu Kore-eda’s “The Truth.” Photo: IFC Films

The title character in “The Truth” is fiendishly clever, seemingly elusive and yet everywhere, hiding in plain sight.

The just-published memoirs of legendary French acting giant Fabienne Dangeville seems to have very little of it; the science-fiction film she is making is, well, science fiction, and even as a visit by her daughter and her family threatens to expose it, she vows to suppress it.

Truth, after all, is “less interesting,” says Fabienne, who tells her daughter, “I’d rather have been a bad friend and a bad mother and a great actress. You won’t forgive me, but the public will.”

Ah, but that’s not really true either.

“The Truth,” available to stream on Friday, July 3, is a pleasure of a movie that features a dream teaming of Catherine Deneuve, as Fabienne (Deneuve’s actual middle name), and Juliette Binoche as her screenwriter daughter Lumir. It also stars Ethan Hawke as Lumir’s American actor husband Hank, but Hawke’s main job is to get out of the way and let Deneuve and Binoche go at it.

Master Japanese writer-director Hirokazu Kore-eda makes a seamless transition to French-language cinema, filming in and around Paris and successfully importing his feel for complicated family dynamics shown in masterpieces such as “Maborosi,” “Still Walking” and and the recent Oscar-nominated “Shoplifters.”

As with many Kore-eda films, a deceased character — never seen in flashbacks, only spoken about — looms as a dark shadow over present relationships. Here, it is the great actress Sarah Mondovian, Fabienne’s best friend and a mother figure to Lumir.

Juliette Binoche (left) Clémentine Grenier and Ethan Hawke in a scene from Hirokazu Kore-eda’s “The Truth.” Photo: IFC Films

Before her death decades ago in an accident, Sarah had become a top actress despite Fabienne stealing a plum role from her early in both of their careers. Now, as she promotes her memoir, Fabienne is co-starring in a science-fiction film with a rising young actress (Manon Clavel) who is called “the new Sarah Mondovian.” And in a great twist, Fabienne is playing the young actress’ aging daughter (it is sci-fi, after all; the movie’s title is “Memories of My Mother”).

Deneuve has fun with her best role in years; at one point she says that all great actresses have alliterative names: Danielle Darrieux, Michèle Morgan, Simone Signoret. When Hank, trying to be helpful, adds Brigitte Bardot to the mix, Fabienne rolls her eyes and snorts. Earlier, she complains about modern movie making, with shaky, roving cameras that make her “dizzy” and a lack of “poetry,” which older films have.

Kore-eda deftly weaves the contents of Fabienne’s memoir, the movie-within-the-movie and Lumir’s structured family life — something Fabienne never had — as a supporting framework to the mother-daughter conflict. An added layer: the third generation, Lumir’s elementary school-aged daughter (scene-stealer Clémentine Grenier), who displays her grandmother’s thespian instincts.

The philosophical key to the movie is when Fabienne’s longtime personal assistant (Alain Libolt) observes that “memory isn’t truth.”

Perhaps, then, the search for literal truth is besides the point. Maybe all the emotional deception, make-believe and self-delusion is actually a search for an authentic present, even at the expense of an inauthentic past.

N“The Truth”: Drama. Starring Ethan Hawke, Juliette Binoche and Catherine Deneuve. Directed by Hirokazu Kore-eda. (PG. 106 minutes). Available for streaming starting Friday, July 3, through video on demand.

(embed)https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LoNoOn6c0gA(/embed)